African-American firefighter sues over alleged noose incident

Firefighter Mikel Neal and his attorney held a news conference Wednesday morning to address the incident. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An African-American firefighter and his wife have filed a federal lawsuit against a City of Marion deputy fire chief, accusing him of throwing a noose during a training exercise.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that Deputy Chief Rick Backs “maliciously threw a noose to Mikel Neal, an African-American, thereby intimidating him because of his race.”

The lawsuit seeks attorneys’ fees and other monetary damages for “loss of consortium.” The lawsuit also states that “Mikel Neal and Rachelle Fears-Neal have suffered serious and permanent emotional injuries requiring time off work and multiple counseling session(s).”

According to the lawsuit, the alleged incident happened in February at Station 6 while Neal and engineer Jake Morrow were doing “ropes and knots training.”

The following description alleging what occurred was included in the lawsuit:

Deputy Chief Rick Backs came to the station towards the end of the training. Everyone was in the kitchen area. Mr. Neal was sitting at the table in front of the white board. Engineer Jake Morrow was to his left sitting and Private Scott Snyder was sitting directly in front of him. Captain Eddie Miller was standing in front of the refrigerator and Deputy Chief Rick Backs was sitting in a chair at the entrance leading to the restroom/locker room. Deputy Chief Backs asked for Captain Miller’s rope, and Captain Miller tossed his rope to him. Captain Miller then said something to the affect “I don’t think you should be doing that” and Mr. Neal looked up from his phone and noticed Deputy Chief Backs was making something with a rope but at the time Mr. Neal couldn’t tell what it was. Deputy Chief Backs then said “Here Mikki” as he tossed the rope to Mr. Neal, at which point Mr. Neal noticed it was a noose. Mr. Neal did not look up at Deputy Chief Backs. Mr. Neal just caught the noose and set it down on the table and shook his head in shock.”

A call and email placed to an attorney for Neal were not immediately returned.

Tom Hunt, an attorney for the City of Marion, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but confirmed that both Neal and Morrow have been off work since late March.

In an email, Hunt acknowledged that the incident occurred in mid-February, but that it was not reported it for three weeks. Hunt said the city’s contract with its firefighters allows for one year of leave if supported by a physician statement, “which they both turned in,” he wrote.

As a result of the alleged incident, Backs was demoted to private but remains on the fire department.

A message left at a number for Backs was not returned immediately Tuesday afternoon. A phone number associated with Neal has been disconnected.

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